Veg-Friendly Small Plates at Martha in Fort Greene
Fort Greene seems to be home to a veritable explosion of bars, cafés and restaurants these days. But I knew for sure that I wanted to stop by Martha, the white-tiled, shabbily chic-decorated spot on Dekalb Avenue that, for a time, was home to the poorly-received Brooklyn Sandwich Society, which sold $17 sandwiches that even the ever-wealthier neighborhood couldn't seem to stomach. The restaurant had transformed, I had heard, into a classy small plates spot; I wanted to see for myself.
Five of the small plates are veg-friendly, though the menu changes frequently. First to arrive was a delicate Shaved Celery Salad ($9), all curling wisps of paper-thin celery brightened with yuzu and slicked with just a bit of toasted sesame oil. That sesame flavor was reinforced by a scattering of black sesame seeds, while leaves of Southeast Asian "rice paddy herb"—a new one to me—brought flavors of lemon and cumin. An avowed celery-hater, I enjoyed this dish; I can only imagine that someone with stronger pro-celery feelings would love it.
In a study of contrasts, the next plate to be delivered to our table was Cauliflower Gratin ($9), warm, rich and comforting where the salad was cool, refreshing and bracing. Al dente florets of cauliflower—a touch too al dente, actually—came nestled in a creamy, not-too-heavy bechamel sauce that was nutty with the flavor of clothbound cheddar and smoky from the addition of plenty of smoked paprika. A topping of crispy, buttery breadcrumbs added some nice crunch.
I noticed the aroma of Butternut Squash ($9) even before it landed in front of me: butter on butter on butter (and that's not a complaint). That butter was folded with lightly salted miso paste and soaked into the tiny cubes of (again, not fully cooked) cubes of butternut squash in the bowl. Roasted almonds and frizzled shallots brought additional richness to the squash, which was tempered by a few leaves of fresh cilantro. This was my favorite dish of the night: I just wish the squash had been a touch more tender—even though I prefer al dente vegetables to mushy vegetables, the butternut still had a touch of starchy rawness to it.
Dinner closed on a lusty note, with big, leafy chunks of sautéed Chinese Broccoli ($9) showered with tons of raw Thai chiles and crispy garlic chips. The intense heat of the peppers was just barely tempered by an acidic dash of black vinegar—a good thing, in my book—and a ton of fresh ginger brought further balance to the greens.
Martha is a nice addition to Dekalb Avenue: who can resist well-made food served in a pretty little jewel box of a space? It seems the evolution from sandwiches to small plates has been a successful one.